So I promised one of my players a short discussion on multiclassing in 5e, along with some guidelines into what is involved in doing so. First, one of the things I like about 5e is that the combination of race, class, and archtype fundamentally removes some of the reasons for multiclassing that were found in 1e. You can play a roguish spell-casting warrior half-elf, or a dwarven soldier-priest, or a elven mage who wields a puissant longsword pretty easily just with the basic game mechanics. Add in feats and this only increases the ability to tweak the flavor of a character pretty easily.
But multiclassing goes one step further, so that you get the class features of two classes, though you don’t get the starting skills of the subsequent classes and weapons and armor skills may or may not be restricted. Mechanically it is also more like 1e “dual-classing” which used to be restricted to humans only, but is now available to everyone unlike the old 1e multiclassing which was simultaneous advancement across two or three classes.. It is a clearly stated optional feature available at the discretion of the Dungeon Master, but I see no problem in allowing it per se, just with how it gets presented a bit in Players Handbook.
In 5e, as long as you can some very basic statistic requirements (which are not even as high as they were in 1e) the implication is that you simply get to decide upon making a new level, if you want to take the level in your current class or if you want to take it a new class. Yes, there is some flavor text about “hanging out with the new class lately” but the implication is that this is an relatively off-the-cuff decision on the player/characters part.
That… I don’t exactly agree with.
I certainly agree that some of character classes are pretty simple to switch into – especially in the 5e with the use of skills as opposed to many things being inherent to a character class. So, you want to switch over to Fighter or Rogue? Those are, in my mind, probably the only two classes that have no requirements other than the basic ones mentioned in the Players Handbook for doing so. They both represent relatively basic skill sets at 1st level, that are then refined and developed.
After this however, the classes all have some particular focus or inherent skill set that required varying levels or dedication or training to even get to first level (and that’s before we even address the whole 5e idea that character classes are fundamentally special and unique beyond the ken even many NPC’s – which is horseshit in my opinion, btw). The next easiest is probably the Warlock – all you need to do is make a Pact, and you’re a Warlock. So if you want to roleplay out getting a Patron, becoming a Warlock is pretty easy.
Sorcerer’s are a similar case – they simply need a good reason why a new “inborn” magical ability manifests. This isn’t a freebee in my campaign, but if someone really wants to play a sorcerer I have no problem in figuring something out. This might require some roleplaying, ok, probably it will, but explaining away suddenly becoming a Sorcerer is relatively easy in the grand scheme of things. Objectively this class is arguably the “hardest” to switch to because it is supposedly fundamental aspects or inborn traits of the characters, but gaming logic and character experience usually provide ample fodder for such things manifesting. Case in point, Fonkin’s new level is in Sorcerer, and he had to take the new Shadowed Bloodline – but this makes perfect sense given what happened to the character.
Next up are Clerics, Druids, and Paladins. All a character fundamentally needs is a genuine connection to Deity and a Calling and they have the most important thing (that they really can’t be without). Now, that said, most Callings involve training through a religious institution (the Church of the Lords of Light, the Druidic Orders, the En Khoda Theos Kirk, etc) so that you are recognized clergy as opposed to a wild-eyed (potential) heretic – plus so that you can actually do a good job of being clergy.
At some point I suppose I could rant about the training involved in Master’s level programs vs. Doctoral-level programs Divinity schools in the real world. But suffice to say that there is more to being clergy than an initiation… The end result is that, with rare exceptions, if you want to multiclass as a Cleric, Druid, or Paladin, you need to spend some time studying at seminary or the equivalent, probably between six months and a year. This is more than simply Downtime Activities, and probably requires taking some time away from adventuring – unless you’ve been role-playing the heck out of this and been using your Downtime Activities for this purpose. Also be prepared for some very close attention being paid to you by your mentors and superiors in “the Church” as they try to make sure you don’t screw too much up as you figure out this new vocation.
Barbarians, Bards, and Rangers are the next tier, but for somewhat different reasons. Barbarians have to tap into their rage, Bards have a fair amount of study and learning(both mundane and magical), and Rangers have a deep connection to land plus some magical study. None of this comes easy, and the class features and flavor text all imply something that needs to be nurtured over the course of time via study and practice. Sure, with the right Background (much like with Cleric, Druid, and Paladin) some of this can be shortcut, but sans any divine act, you simply don’t just develop a Bard’s music skills, or a Ranger’s favored terrain, or even a Barbarian’s ability to focus their rage effectively. Again, we’re probably talking six months to a year of work on the characters part, in addition to Downtime Activities. I’m also likely to demand that you choose what your Totem, College, or Archtype will be “up front” so that the role-playing reflects that eventual focus on the characters part – it may not be graven in stone, but people need something fundamental to switch their class to one of these as opposed to simply picking up the right feats or skills.
Lastly we have Monks and Wizards, both of whom are classes which are explicitly described as requiring years of disciplined study to even get to first level. You need to find someone to train you, you need to do the training, and the training can’t be interrupted by lots of adventuring. In general, expect to be away from the adventuring party for at least a year of game time. Sure, there might be some “Downtime Adventuring” (and roleplaying) but these characters are engaged in their “disciplined study” even if it is highly shortened due to their heroic nature.
Depending upon the final rules on Mystics they could either be like Warlocks & Sorcerers or they could be like Monks & Wizards. If someone really wanted to play a Witch Hunter I think I would treat them similar to Priests, Druids, and Paladins, and if there is an Alchemist or Engineer class that ever comes out I would probably treat it like Monks & Wizards.
It is worth noting that some races and classes don’t mix well at all (Dwarves and Wizards for example) while some work very well together (Khazan and Barbarian, Gnome and Ranger, Dragonborn and Sorcerer, to mention three). This may make things easier or harder when justifying or explaining how the multiclassing works. Similarly, some classes don’t play well together (Cleric and Warlock immediately spring to mind) while others seem like a natural fit (Ranger and Druid) – again this can create significant impediments to multiclassing or smooth the way considerably.
Lastly, this is fantasy game, so with a good enough story almost anything can happen. Characters have gone to Faerie and come back dual-classed as a Wizard having spent seven years there while a winter passed in the Mortal Realms while another switched from Cleric to Druid after meeting Dannan, and another switched from Fighter to Paladin. Now, these stories came with complications (and good rule of thumb is that the more shortcuts, the more complications) but roleplay well or do the right quests and there is usually a way to make things happen.